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Displaying Lab Prices on EHR Systems Cuts Costs

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, November 26, 2013

In the one year before the project, the residents identified 45,023 of tests for serum levels of total calcium, ionized calcium, chloride, magnesium, and phosphorus in the neurosurgical service. In fiscal year 2011–2012, this number was reduced 47% to 23,660. The residents' findings were part of an in-house initiative at UCSF that encourages clinicians to identify department-specific cost savings and quality improvements in care delivery.

In April, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported in JAMA Internal Medicine that that when doctors are told the price of some diagnostic laboratory test as the tests are ordered, they respond like informed consumers and either order fewer tests or shop around for cheaper alternatives.

The Johns Hopkins study identified 62 diagnostic blood tests frequently ordered for patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Researchers divided the tests into two groups and made sure prices were attached to one group from November 2009 to May 2010 at the time doctors ordered the lab tests.

They left out the pricing information for the other group over the same time period. When the researchers compared ordering rates to a six-month period a year earlier when no costs were displayed, they found a nearly 9% reduction in tests when the cost was revealed as well as a 6% increase in tests when no price was given. The net charge reduction was more than $400,000 over six months.


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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